David was 43 years old, but an honorary twink. He grew up in an ultra-conservative household in Arkansas, got married, and became a Baptist preacher -- then, on his 40th birthday, had his first same-sex experience. He came out, quit his job, divorced his wife, and moved to San Francisco -- all in the same week!
He got an apartment and a job, joined a gym, bought a new wardrobe consisting mostly of leather, and went cruising. Every day. At lunchtime, after work, in the evening. Sometimes on the way to work.
David was an equal-opportunity cruiser. Young, old, black, white, rich, poor, he didn't care as long as you had either a nice smile or a big package.
But still, I was shocked when he cruised the teenage panhandler.
In San Francisco, panhandlers were everywhere, lined up outside ATM machines, restaurants, Muni stations, waving their cups, holding their signs that said "hungry!" or "Disabled veteran" or chanting "Any change? Any change? Any change?"
Most people ignored them, figuring if you gave them money, you would be tagged as an "easy mark" and followed by many more. Besides, you couldn't tell who was actually in need and who just wanted money for drugs. There were many charities in town that could provide food and housing more equitably.
One day we went to Orphan Andy's for breakfast before work, and near the Muni station we passed a young panhandler, short, slim, probably in his 20s, wearing a baseball cap and an "Oakland A's" jersey. His sign read: "Kicked out of the house for being gay!"
David dropped fifty cents into his cup, said "God bless you!", and moved on.
"Cute!" he told me when we were out of earshot. "I'll bet he's open for business!"
"You mean as a hustler?" I asked. "Probably. I hear that a lot of panhandlers will drop their pants and give you a show for a dollar. Except they're not usually very attractive. Living on the street, you don't get a lot of opportunities to hit the gym."
"Well, that twink was hot. And I didn't mean as a hustler -- I meant as a date."
My mouth dropped. "Are you crazy? You can't cruise panhandlers!"
"Why not? Worried that he'll stab me and steal all of my stuff?" He patted my shoulder. "Just because they don't have a place to stay, they're automatically criminals, right? Got a few prejudices there, Boomer?"
"It's not that," I said, embarrassed. "But you know...."
"Oh, you're worried that he's poz (HIV positive). I don't doubt it -- safe sex isn't exactly a priority on the street. But I'm not stupid. I never go downtown without a condom."
"Anyway, he's at least 20 years younger than you. Middle-aged guys can't cruise twinks. It's not done."
"Well, there's a first time for everything."
"Yes, but..." I struggled to articulate. "You're in a position of power over him. Sex with him sounds like exploitation."
"Jesus had dinner with tax collectors and sinners," David said with a shrug.
The next morning we passed the same panhandler, and David gave him a dollar and shook his hand before saying "God bless you."
"I'm gay," the boy pointed out, as if that prohibited us from using the word "God" around him.
"The Metropolitan Community Church has an outreach program for homeless youth..." I said.
"I know. I've been there to take showers and get new clothes. But I don't like churches much. My Dad was a strict Baptist, and when he found out I was gay, he held my head under water to force the 'gay demon' out."
"I heard that!" David exclaimed. "I used to be a Baptist minister -- they didn't get that being gay is a gift from God. So is sex," he added.
The boy grinned.
"My name's David."
"Is this your usual spot? Maybe I'll see you tomorrow."
As we walked away, David nudged me. "Still worried about exploitation?"
"Sort of. Give him some new clothes, buy him dinner, but having sex with him just seems exploitive."
"Would you like to supervise? Or share?"
I admit, I was curious.
On the third day, David gave Cole another dollar and a sausage-and-cheese bagel and invited him to have dinner at his apartment. "Oh, and Boomer is coming, too."
That night, Cole arrived at David's doorstep, wearing a see-through t-shirt, and carrying a bouquet of flowers, of all things.
Over a dinner of chicken tetrazzini and tiramisu, Cole told us about his upper-middle class home in Tucson. His father was a prominent lawyer. He had three older brothers and sisters, one a lawyer, another married to a lawyer.
"And I'm the black sheep of the family. Straight C's, suspended for fighting, arrested for smoking pot, and 'an abomination in the eyes of the Lord' to boot."
"You're not an abomination in anyone's eyes," David said. They were holding hands under the table.
"You think so? You should see how people at the Muni Station look at me. Like I'm lower than dirt. When they look at me at all. They don't get that I'm just a regular, normal guy. I like sports and stuff. I like hot guys."
Two weeks later, Cole was on a bus to Phoenix, where his older brother had agreed to take him in: "gay or not, he's still my brother."
What he needed the most was not money or a place to stay. It was to be treated like a "regular, normal guy," not an abomination because he was homeless or gay.
See also: Pushing a Shopping Cart up Castro Street